Almost half of millennials are so scared of debt they’re putting off buying a house

March 4, 2022, 10:48 PM UTC

Homeownership used to be a no-brainer. For many Americans, buying your first home has historically been an ideal first big investment and a great way to start building wealth.

But as millennials began to enter their prime home-buying age range, they got a rude surprise.

Debt is just too big a worry for the generation born between the early 1980s and late 1990s.

A study released in January by real estate and mortgage company Rocket Homes surveyed nearly 1,300 prospective or recent homebuyers, 69% of whom were millennials, and found that nearly half of the 30-something generation had delayed their decision to buy a home because of a fear of falling into debt.

Other factors that figured into people’s decisions to delay buying a home included wanting to save more money for a down payment and the high price of housing. Millennials have been hit especially hard by the current pandemic-fueled crunch in the U.S. housing market, as low inventory, inflation, and high competition have pushed costs up. Older generations have been able to effectively price millennials out of the housing market in 2022.

Debt aversion among millennials has extended to the housing market, as the Rocket Homes survey found that millennials would much rather delay purchasing a house if it means having to take out a loan. The survey also found that a clear majority of all homebuyers, 72%, would be willing to ask their families for financial assistance in making down payments on new homes.

Debt aversion is the new brunch

Millennials’ aversion to accruing debt isn’t just limited to housing. The demographic have shown to be significantly more debt-averse than older generations even in taking on credit card debt. 

In a study conducted last year by Experian, a credit reporting company, found that credit card debt among millennials averaged around $4,300, well below the average for Gen Xers ($7,155) and baby boomers ($6,043).

Big purchases like buying a home used to be considered examples of “good debt,” the idea that taking on debt in the short term can help people build credit and wealth for the future, taking the adage “you have to spend money to make money” to its extreme.

But millennials don’t seem to be buying into this logic. In addition to being less likely to take out a loan to buy a new home, millennials are less likely than most older generations to make any kind of big purchase (such as buying a car) if they can avoid it.

It always comes back to student loans

A number of factors play into this big generational difference about debt aversion, but part of it is definitely student loans. Millennials just have more of them.

Last October, nearly 15 million millennials had at least some student loans to repay, with the average borrower being nearly $40,000 in debt, much higher than any other generation, according to data compiled by research institution EducationData.

A student loan used to be thought of as the perfect example of “good debt.” Calling a college tuition an “investment into your future” has been commonplace in university welcome centers for years, but there are now fewer guarantees than ever that a college degree can be turned into an income to even out loan payments.

President Joe Biden conspicuously failed to mention student-loan debt, or its cancelation, in his State of the Union address in early March. During his campaign, Biden pledged to cancel $10,000 in debt for every borrower, less than the $50,000 cancelation pledge that his rival Elizabeth Warren ran on, but far more than what he’s moved to cancel in office.

For nearly half of potential first-time homebuyers, the specter of student loans are just too much to go for a mortgage as well.

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